CONICET scientists received an international award for their work on role of hippocampus in motor learning

Valeria Della Maggiore and her research team received the Susanne Klein-Vogelbach Prize.

Valeria Della Maggiore. Photo: courtesy researcher.

Scientists at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) were awarded the Susanne Klein-Vogelbach Prize in ‘Research on Human Movement’ for their work published in the journal  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

The Susanne Klein-Vogelbach-Prize is given to researchers who work on neurosciences, orthopedics and other sciences aimed at enhancing the knowledge on the underlying principles of human movement and its rehabilitation.

“It was a great pleasure for me and the whole team to receive this prize,” says Valeria Della Maggiore, CONICET researcher at the Instituto de Fisiología y Biofísica Bernardo Houssay (IFIBIO, CONICET-UBA) and director of the study. “This prize is an award for our effort and years of work, at least three years since we obtained the resonance imaging until it was published,” she adds.

“Rapid hippocampal plasticity supports motor sequence-learning” is a study about hippocampus and its role in the reactivation of motor memories led by IFIBIO scientists  in collaboration with colleagues from Canada and Italy.

The hippocampus has traditionally been a structure linked to the encoding and stabilization of declarative (conscious) memories, such as autobiographical memories. The originality of this study lies in the fact that the results are focused on their participation in the early stages of the formation of non-declarative memories. In the research work, the scientists observed that the hippocampus seemed to be involved in the initiation of learning, mainly in the periods of rest interspersed with practice and its activity declines as it reaches a stable performance or what is called the asymptote.

“Through functional magnetic resonance imaging we observed that hippocampal activity increased during rest periods interspersed with the execution of a motor sequence. The interesting fact is that it is during these rest intervals that the improvement in performance is observed. During the first part of the learning process, those individuals that learn quickly showed more activity in the hippocampus. This was modified as training progressed and once the performance level stabilized, the activity of the hippocampus decreased.  The results also appeared with structural changes in the same brain region 30 minutes after completing the practice, suggesting that the same region that is reactivated during learning experiences rapid plastic changes,” explains the researcher.

The results show the existence of a consolidation mechanism of the common memory to the declarative and nondeclarative memories. As regards the next step in the study, the team will focus on examining whether the hippocampus participates in other types of non-declarative learning, and on evaluating to which extent its participation depends on the processing of the explicit component of the task.

The research team comprises members of IFIBIO, CONICET: Valeria Della Maggiore, Florencia Jacobacci, Biomedical Engineering and CONICET PhD fellow; Abraham Yeffal, medical student and doctoral fellow, Gonzalo Lerner, Bachelor of Psychology and PhD fellow; Jorge L. Armony, professor in the Department of Psychology at McGill University in Canada; Edson Amaro, Professor at the University of Sao Paulo; Jorge Jovicich, professor at the University of Trento; Julien Doyon, Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University.